tonight on "nightline," live from the memorial. the president gives a powerful address to a grieving nation remembering the victims of saturday's shooting and challenging the country to live up to their example. the heroes. we'll have the reaction from some of the brave souls who risked it all, including daniel hernandez, who sat beside the president tonight. tragedy in tucson. as the country looks inward, a special edition of "nightline" begins right now. >> announcer: from the global resources of abc news terry moran, cynthia mcfadden and bill weir in new york city this is "nightline," january 12th, 2011. >> good evening, i'm bill weir.
after five days of anguish and anger, tucson and really the whole nation was due for an emotional cleansing tonight. 25,000 people showed up at a college arena that seats half that many. among them some carrying flesh wounds. all of them scarred emotionally by saturday's murder spree. the heads of state and federal government were there. cabinet members, supreme court justices past and present. and the man who carried the biggest responsibility to the mode podium, barack obama. more than any dark moment before, this was his night to serve as consoler in chief. and after a week of bitter political back and forth, millions tuned in to see how the president would respond, but not one of them expected one particular line early in the speech. the news that representative gab ree gel gef fordiffords opened her eyes tonight. one of many applause breaks. our chief white house
correspondent jake tapper was there and joins us now for more on gabby and the rest of the speech. jake? >> reporter: good evening, bill. instead of bringing us together as happened after 9/11 the tucson tragedy in so many ways has divided us. so president obama faced a particular periless task to both eulogize the victims and to also unite the nation. at the mckale memorial center before a crowd of 13,000 with 14,000 more in overthrow and millions more watching nationwide, the president started on a somber note. >> there is nothing i can say that will fill the sudden hole torn in your hearts. but know this. the hope ss of the nation are here tonight. we mourn with you for the fallen
fallen, we join you in your grief. >> reporter: but having come straight from the hospital where the president visited with congresswoman gabrielle giffords, and with her husband sitting in the audience, the president also brought with him some good news. >> and i want to tell you, her husband mark is here and he allows me to share this with you, right after we went to visit visit, a few minutes after we left her room and some of her colleagues from congress were in the room gabby opened her eyes for the first time. gabby opened her eyes for the first time. gabby opened her eyes.
gabby opened her eyes so i can tell you, she knows we are here she knows we love her and she knows that we are rooting for her through what is undoubtedly going to be a difficult journey. >> reporter: tonight was an unusual combination of almost a pep rally and a somber memorial. the university handed out t-shirts saying together we thrive, tucson and america. the community's desire to heal to rise from the ashes of tragedy, manifested itself in an enthusiasm that may have struck some as odd for a memorial. one of the heroes of the tragedy, daniel hernandez jr., was cheered as he walked into the arena. as were some of the doctors. former supreme court justice sandra day o'connor, a former arizona state senator greeted dr. peter rhee.
the president honored them and the arena exploded in celebration. >> our hearts are full of gratitude for those who saved others. we are grateful to daniel hernandez. a volunteer in gabby's office. and daniel, i'm sorry, you may deny it, but we've decided you are a hero because you ran through the chaos to minister to your boss and tended to her wounds and help keep her alive. we are grateful to the men who tackled the gunman as he stopped to reload. they're right over there. >> reporter: but there was sadness, as well, as the president talked about those
killed on saturday. judge john roll. doorny morris. phyllis schneck. dorwan stoddard. gabe zimmerman, and 9-year-old christina-taylor green. >> i believe we are full of decency and goodness and that the forces that divide us are not as strong as those that unite us. that's what i believe. in part because that's what a child like christina-taylor green believed. >> reporter: the president talked about christina as an inspiration for the nation. >> she saw all this through the eyes of a child. undimmed by the cynicism or vitriol that we adults all too
often just take for granted. i want to live up to her expectations. i want our democracy to be as good asimagined it. i want america to be as good as she imagined it. all of us we should do everything we can do to make sure this country lives up to our children's expectations. >> reporter: and in an emotional moment, the president recalled that christina was one of 50 babies born on september 11th 2001, pictured in a book called "faces of hope." >> and here, on this earth, here on this earth, we place our hands over our hearts and we commit ourselves, as americans, to forging a country that is forever worthy of her gentle
happy spirit. >> reporter: white house aides said the president did not want this to be about politic, but in a sense, anything a president does is political. and tonight was a big moment for him. as with previous presidents called to moments of national tragedy. many democrats have suggested that the shooter was affected by harsh rhetoric on the right. a charge for which there is no evidence. conservatives have sniped that democrats are exploiting the tragedy. better angels have been shoved aside bipartisan demons. the president tonight essentially told everyone to simmer down. >> at a time when our discourse has become so sharply polarized. at a time when we are far too eager to lay the blame for all that ails the world at the feet of those who happen to think differently than we do. it's important for us to pause for a moment and make sure that
we're talk inging with each other in a way that teamheals. not in a way that wounds. >> reporter: officials say the president wanted to lift the nation up and not shrink the moment with politics. we will see if he succeeded. >> may god bless and keep those we've lost in restful and eternal peace. may he love and watch over the survivors. and may he bless the united states of america. >> reporter: bill, president obama has never been as good at conveying empathy as say, bill clinton, but tonight he did seem successful in tapping into that sense of unity that he so successfully conveyed in that 2004 democratic national convention speech and the sense of unity that helped sweep him into office in 2008. bill? >> jake tapper reporting from tucson tonight. our thanks to you. and, much more ahead in this
extended edition of "nightline." you heard the president speaking about heroes. when we come back, we will hear from one of them. the one who sat next to the first family tonight. [ male announcer ] learn about a free trial offer from abilify. if you're taking an antidepressant and still feel depressed one option your doctor may consider is adding abilify. abilify treats depression in adults when added to an antidepressant.
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>> although i appreciate the sentiment, i must humbly reject the use of the word hero because i am not one. >> well, more than one person begged to differ including the president. daniel was five days into his internship with the congresswoman when he rushed to the gun fire to be by her side and likely saved her life by staunching her bleeding and applying pressure to her wounds. david wright is in tucson, with him tonight. david? >> reporter: good evening, bill. tonight, the heroes had pride of place, seats of honor. and daniel hernandez was right next to the president himself, and that is, as it should be given the extraordinary heroism you showed on saturday and we thank you for joining us. >> thank you for having me. >> reporter: i cannot imagine how humbling it must be to have not only the president of the united states single you out by name and applauding you, but to have 14,000 members of your community standing on their feet.
>> i think it is always humbling when you get recognized by more than one person but then by the governor and the president, it is extremely humbling. >> reporter: and you had the added burden tonight of having to get up there and speak yourself. that must have been nerve wracking. >> it was nerve wracking because you only get one shot at it and at the end, i ended up tossing out what i had written before hand and just kind of wing it because i thought it would be better if i spoke from the heart. >> reporter: the thing that people take away from the peach, what the president took away from it you don't think you're a hero. why not? >> because i'm not. i think people that do things as a one off may be brave at the time but they're not people who should be considered heroes. i think, to do something that's heroic is to do something that's long and sustained, things that like congresswoman giffords has done, like that.
they are people that have dedicated their lives to helping others. i think giving up your life to help others is really something that's heroic, not stepping up once and being brave. >> reporter: i get the sense this is the beginning of that path for you, and president obama, for one begged to differ. let's hear what he had to say. >> and daniel, i'm sorry, you may deny it but we've decided that you are a hero. because you ran through the chaos to minister to your boss and tended to her wounds and helped keep her alive. >> reporter: how did you react when you heard that? >> the speech that the president gave tonight was incredible. i think any time that the president speaks after a great national tragedy, it's always very uplifting, but the way that he spoke tonight just really spoke to the heart of not just gabby, but all of the victims. his way of speaking about each individual person and relating
them to how we are all one big american family -- >> reporter: it was a night where it seemed like this huge nation of ours comes together and is really kind of a small town. >> yeah. that's kind of one of the great things about tucson. no matter how big we get, we all kind of feel like one small community, which is something that was even mentioned tonight, but we've all kind of come together as a nation as one strong community that's trying to move forward. >> reporter: the president did share good news in his speech the fact that congresswoman giffords eyes open tonight for the first time since last saturday. did you have any hint that was coming? >> i had no idea. this's probably one of the first times that i smiled in days. because hearing that news after also hearing that she was now breathing on her own is incredible. that type of injury, i've been told, is extremely dangerous, and not a lot of people make it but knowing that gabby is the fighter she is she's going to keep on fighting. >> reporter: i want to thank you for speaking with us tonight. congratulations on the recognition that you received tonight. well deserved. one of the heroes of last saturday's event and one of the
inspiring stories that makes this tragedy more than just a tragedy, but an event where the nation is beginning to heal. bill? >> david, as you pointed out, further proof of the ice water in his veins, he just winged it in front of that room. thanks to david wright nor that report. when we come back, how did the president do tonight? we will talk to the experts. stay with us. if your racing thoughts keep you awake... sleep is here, on the wings of lunesta. and if you wake up often in the middle of the night... rest is here on the wings of lunesta. lunesta helps you fall asleep and stay asleep, so you can wake up feeling rested. when taking lunesta, don't drive or operate machinery until you feel fully awake. walking, eating, driving or engaging in other activities while asleep, without remembering it the next day, have been reported. abnormal behaviors may include aggressiveness, agitation, hallucinations or confusion. in depressed patients, worsening of depression, including risk of suicide, may occur.
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for its recovery. speeches delivered by american presidents in times of national sorrow have held certain characteristics in common and president obama's speech fit the template in the almost every way, with one exception. >> today is a day for mourning and remembering. >> we mourn with you. we share your hope against hope that some may still survive. >> our grief has turned to anger, and anger to resolution. >> reporter: they are much more than just words. they are part of america's scar tissue. and by peering back into our history's darkest corners, we see that the best consolers in chief all followed common threads. standards that go back to lincoln, on a chilly battleground cemetery. >> the world will little note nor long remember what he say here, but it can never forget what they did here. >> reporter: and what we learn here is that the power of somber
brevity. the gettysburg aggress is just ten sentencing long. and lincoln delivered them in just over two minutes. >> it was so short that the camera men almost didn't get a picture of him doing it. >> reporter: even the great communicators draw on external inspiration. the bible is a common source, but on a january night in '86, ronald reagan quoted a world war ii pilot and poet named john gillespie mcgee. >> we will never forget them, nor the last time we saw them this morning, as they prepared for their journey and waved good-bye, and, slipped the surly bonds of earth to touch the face of god. >> reporter: he was scheduled to give a state of the union address that night but those plans changed when the space shuttle "challenger" exploded in front of a horrified nation watching its televised launch. >> he made us feel the heroism of the astronauts and the tragedy and made it into a great
patriotic american moment. >> reporter: one of the most poignant sections of this four-minute address, a message, directed to the littlest viewers. >> and i want to say something to the school children of america who were watching the live coverage of the shuttle's takeoff. i know it's hard to understand but sometimes painful things like this happen. it's all part of the process of exploreation and discovery. >> he said he was speaking to the children but in saying that, he was speaking to all of us. and he had that capacity to reach our hearts and to express our national spirit in times of very great stress and very great pain. >> reporter: scribes of all political stripes agree. the best speeches resonate on a personal level with those grieves on the scene, while rallying the masses watching from afar. the idea that when a place like oklahoma city is suffering, we are all okay la low mans. >> you have lost too much but
you have not lost everything. and you have certainly not lost america. for we will stand with you. >> reporter: this nine-minute speech, four days after the bombing of the murrah federal building, was one of the short nest bill clinton's career. it came a day after he reminded americans that he was still relevant, despite a republican takeover of congress six months prior. but after spending time with victims' families his words, both scripted and ad libbed resonated on such a powerful level, he received a 12-point bump in the polls. >> those who are lost now belong to god. some day we will be with them. but until that happens, their legacy must be our lives. >> president clinton had to mourn, he had to show the families that the country was with them. he had to touch them
emotionally. but he also had to draw larger lesson that it was wrong to target public servants and that the government was not the enemy. >> reporter: and on very rare occasion, the most stirring moments have no script writer at all. >> i can hear you. the rest of the world hears you. and the people -- and the people who knocked these buildings down will hear all of us soon. >> reporter: three days after the 9/11 attacks, george w. bush spoke from the national cathedral. but much more vivid in the national memory were the words he spoke later that day from a pile of rubble at ground zero. >> that moment with the bull horn was almost a visual statement of -- repetition of franklin roosevelt's statement before world war ii we are going to win, so help us god.
>> reporter: six days later, he followed with an address to congress, a speech that understood a nation's primal need for a leader to step up and assure them of better days. >> the course of this conflict is not known, yet its outcome is certain. freedom and fear justice and cruelty, have always been at war, and we know that god is not neutral between them. >> in his response to september 11th president bush was actually at his best. he unified the country, he spoke to our better angels and he pointed forward. the most effective presidential responses to tragedy aren't only about comforting the families comforting the people who are hurt but also pulling the country together and pointing forward. what are we going to all do together? >> i think, you know this is something presidents have to do. they have to express our best
moments, our most glorious moments. they have to raise our hopes. and then sometimes, in the midst of tragedy they have to console, but as they console, they have to renew hope, too. >> the one point where president obama's speech broke the mold in those examples? the length clocked in at 33 1/2 minutes. a good bit longer than most, but then, president lincoln didn't have a stadium full of excited college students with a lot of applause breaks. for more insight on tonight's activities there in tucson we're joined by abc news's cokie roberts in washington and matthew dowd in tucson. good to see you tonight. matthew, we'll give you the honors to start us off. those were four pretty lofty standards to compare to. but how did the president do tonight? >> i think he did very well. i mean these speeches in dark moments in the country's time usually are the ones that define a president throughout the history of this country. it's not the big positive things, but it's how they
respond to a dark moment. and a president is called not only to sort of connection emotionally, and that is something barack obama has had some difficulty, people see him as intelligent but they don't quite know his emotional level of intelligence, and i think he did that well. i think these speeches though are judged successful in the context of how they connect to more dots down the road. i'd be interested later on in the state of the union, how he connects it to this. but in this speech tonight, he connected emotionally to the country. >> there seem to be times when he was trying to contain his emotions, talking about the little girl as a father of little girls. cokie? >> i would certainly agree with that, being the father of girls and deeming with a 9-year-old child who was killed is very difficult and he did it very well. and he evoked her as our standard bearer, really that we can't let